Big Solar Project Collides with Conservationism

BrightSourceEnergy Inc is dropping plans to build a 500 MW thermal solar generating plant in the Mojave Desert. The plant, consisting of reflectors and a central tower that would have covered 5,130 acres, was slated for a remote area that President Clinton had promised to protect in perpetuity but which his successor President Bush offered to open to developers. Though Brightsource and its thermal concentrating technology have supporters among environmentalists, California Sen. Dianne Feinstein has been pushing to declare the area affected by the project a national monument.

The area became the property of the Federal government, as it happens, only after the Wildlands Conservancy raised forty million dollars to purchase it and then donated it to the government. Until recently, other solar developers reportedly also were eyeing the property, including Stirling Energy Systems, Solel, Nextlight, and Cogentrix Energy. Brightsource still hopes to build a 400 MW thermal solar plant elsewhere in the Mojave, with Bechtel as prime contractor.

On Sept. 22, barely a week after its shelving the 500-MW Mojave project, BrightSource announced it has reached preliminary agreement with Nevada's Coyote Springs Land Company providing sites for up to 960 MW of solar thermal energy for the California and Nevada markets. The expanded site northeast of Las Vegas will cover 12 square miles and include residential and commercial elements, besides concentrator arrays. It expands on an earlier land agreement between BrightSouce and Coyote allowing for 600 MW of thermal solar generation.

According to BrightSource, the Nevada site and solar projects already have received environmental permits from the federal Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The 400 MW Ivanpah project in the Mojave is under final review by t he California Energy Commission and the Bureau of Land Management, and construction could begin as early as 2010. 

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